“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books và nobody is allowed to lớn read them.”

You were going lớn get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have sầu to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated khổng lồ grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to lớn be placed in every local library that wanted one.

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At the terminal you were going lớn be able to tìm kiếm tens of millions of books & read every page of any book you found. You’d be able khổng lồ highlight passages & make annotations & mô tả them; for the first time, you’d be able to lớn pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, & skết thúc somebody toàn thân straight khổng lồ it with a links. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.

It was lớn be the realization of a long-held dream. “The universal library has been talked about for millennia,” Richard Ovenden, the head of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, has said. “It was possible to lớn think in the Renaissance that you might be able to amass the whole of published knowledge in a single room or a single institution.” In the spring of 2011, it seemed we’d amassed it in a terminal small enough lớn fit on a desk.

“This is a watershed event & can serve as a catalyst for the reinvention of education, retìm kiếm, và intellectual life,” one eager obVPS wrote at the time.

On March 22 of that year, however, the legal agreement that would have sầu unlocked a century’s worth of books & peppered the country with access terminals khổng lồ a universal library was rejected under Rule 23(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Thành Phố New York.

When the library at Alexandria burned it was said to lớn be an “international catastrophe.” When the most significant humanities project of our time was dismantled in court, the scholars, archivists, and librarians who’d had a hand in its undoing breathed a sigh of relief, for they believed, at the time, that they had narrowly averted disaster.

Google’s secret effort to scan every book in the world, codenamed “Project Ocean,” began in earnest in 2002 when Larry Page & Marissa Mayer sat down in the office together with a 300-page book và a metronome. Page wanted khổng lồ know how long it would take to lớn scan more than a hundred-million books, so he started with one that was lying around. Using the metronome khổng lồ keep a steady pace, he and Mayer paged through the book cover-to-cover. It took them 40 minutes.

Page had always wanted lớn digitize books. Way back in 1996, the student project that eventually became Google—a “crawler” that would ingest documents & rank them for relevance against a user’s query—was actually conceived as part of an effort “lớn develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated & universal digital library.” The idea was that in the future, once all books were digitized, you’d be able khổng lồ maps the citations among muốn them, see which books got cited the most, and use that data to lớn give better tìm kiếm results lớn library patrons. But books still lived mostly on paper. Page and his research partner, Sergey Brin, developed their popularity-contest-by-citation idea using pages from the World Wide Web.

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By 2002, it seemed lớn Page lượt thích the time might be ripe to lớn come baông chồng lớn books. With that 40-minute number in mind, he approached the University of Michigan, his alma mater & a world leader in book scanning, khổng lồ find out what the state of the art in mass digitization looked like. Michigan told Page that at the current pace, digitizing their entire collection—7 million volumes—was going to lớn take about a thousvà years. Page, who’d by now given the problem some thought, replied that he thought Google could vị it in six.

Every weekday, semày trucks full of books would pull up at designated Google scanning centers.

He offered the library a deal: You let us borrow all your books, he said, & we’ll scan them for you. You’ll over up with a digital copy of every volume in your collection, and Google will kết thúc up with access to one of the great untapped troves of data left in the world. Brin put Google’s lust for library books this way: “You have sầu thousands of years of human knowledge, & probably the highest-chất lượng knowledge is captured in books.” What if you could feed all the knowledge that’s locked up on paper khổng lồ a search engine?

By 2004, Google had started scanning. In just over a decade, after making deals with Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, the Thủ đô New York Public Library, và dozens of other library systems, the company, outpacing Page’s prediction, had scanned about 25 million books. It cost them an estimated $400 million. It was a feat not just of technology but of logistics.

Every weekday, semày trucks full of books would pull up at designated Google scanning centers. The one ingesting Stanford’s library was on Google’s Mountain View campus, in a converted office building. The books were unloaded from the trucks onkhổng lồ the kind of carts you find in libraries & wheeled up khổng lồ human operators sitting at one of a few dozen brightly lit scanning stations, arranged in rows about six to eight feet apart.

The stations—which didn’t so much scan as photograph books—had been custom-built by Google from the sheet metal up. Each one could digitize books at a rate of 1,000 pages per hour. The book would lie in a specially designed motorized cradle that would adjust khổng lồ the spine, locking it in place. Above sầu, there was an array of lights và at least $1,000 worth of optics, including four cameras, two pointed at each half of the book, & a range-finding LIDAR that overlaid a three-dimensional laser grid on the book’s surface to capture the curvature of the paper. The human operator would turn pages by hand—no machine could be as quick và gentle—and fire the cameras by pressing a foot pedal, as though playing at a strange piano.

What made the system so efficient is that it left so much of the work to lớn software. Rather than make sure that each page was aligned perfectly, và flattened, before taking a pholớn, which was a major source of delays in traditional book-scanning systems, cruder images of curved pages were fed khổng lồ de-warping algorithms, which used the LIDAR data along with some clever mathematics to lớn artificially bover the text bachồng inkhổng lồ straight lines.

At its peak, the project involved about 50 full-time software engineers. They developed optical character-recognition software for turning raw images inlớn text; they wrote de-warping and color-correction & contrast-adjustment routines to lớn make the images easier to lớn process; they developed algorithms khổng lồ detect illustrations & diagrams in books, khổng lồ extract page numbers, khổng lồ turn footnotes into real citations, &, per Brin & Page’s early retìm kiếm, to lớn rank books by relevance. “Books are not part of a network,” Dan Clancy, who was the engineering director on the project during its heyday, has said. “There is a huge research challenge, to lớn understvà the relationship between books.”

At a time when the rest of Google was obsessed with making apps more “social”—Google Plus was released in 2011—Books was seen by those who worked on it as one of those projects from the old era, lượt thích Search itself, that made good on the company’s mission “to organize the world’s information & make it universally accessible and useful.”

It was the first project that Google ever called a “moonshot.” Before the self-driving car & Project Loon—their effort khổng lồ deliver Internet khổng lồ Africa via high-altitude balloons—it was the idea of digitizing books that struông chồng the outside world as a wide-eyed dream. Even some Googlers themselves thought of the project as a boondoggle. “There were certainly lots of folks at Google that while we were doing Google Book Search were lượt thích, Why are we spending all this money on this project?,” Clancy said to me. “Once Google started being a little more conscious about how it was spending money, it was like, wait, you have sầu $40 million a year, $50 million a year on the cost of scanning? It’s gonmãng cầu cost us $300 lớn $400 million before we’re done? What are you thinking? But Larry và Sergey were big supporters.”

In August 2010, Google put out a blog post announcing that there were 129,864,880 books in the world. The company said they were going to lớn scan them all.

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